Gray Jay – Perisoreus canadensis

Tags: Boreal Forest, North America, bird

Gray Jay

A gray jay perched in a tree.
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Almost everybody who hikes or camps in the boreal forest will see a gray jay. That is because these birds are not shy and will swoop down to visit campsites to find food. The gray jay is a bird of many names; they are also called whiskey jacks, Canada jays and even camp robbers

What does a gray jay look like?

A gray jay has a white belly, forehead, breast, and neck. The rest of its body is gray. Young jays are slate colored gray all over. They look fluffy because they have long insulating feathers to keep them warm in the cold winter months. Gray jays are about 10-13 inches long.

What do gray jays sound like?

They have a variety of different calls some are harsh and high pitched. They are generally quiet and quite tame. If you hold food out for a gray jay then very often it will come take it from your hand!

Where does the gray jay live?

These jays live in northern coniferous forests. They are found across the boreal forest of the northern United States and Canada, and in high mountain ranges of the West. They live in small groups and are rarely seen alone.

What is so interesting about gray jays?

These birds spend most of their time during the warmer months collecting food. They hide excess food in places called caches. Before they hide the food they mix it with their sticky saliva and then make small pellets out of it. These pellets are packed full of energy which they can use at a later date in the winter when food supplies are running low. The jays store the pellets in trees and under pine needles. This hidden food comes in handy in February when they begin building their nests.

When do they nest?

Gray jays begin making their nests in February and start laying eggs in the middle of March. It is still cold in the northern forests at that time of year so the jays must eat lots of food to have enough energy for building and taking care of young. They rely on their caches of pellets for a lot of their energy.

Gray jays use a collection of twigs, bark and sometimes pieces of wasp nests. The inside is lined with soft warm materials like deer, moose, snowshoe hare fur, and fine grasses. These soft materials are comfortable as well as insulating. Gray jays will feed on leftover carrion and will often pick up clumps of hair to take back to their nests.


Farrand, J. Jr. 1988. An Audubon Handbook: Eastern Birds. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: a field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN.

Udvardy, M.D.F. 1977. The Audubon Society field guide to North American birds: Western region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.


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